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Your Most Memorable Professional Mistakes

Anthony Balderrama, CareerBuilder Writer

Some nightmares from your school days will never go away. Whether you graduated from high school this year or two decades ago, some anxiety will always haunt you. Waking up and remembering you forgot to write a research paper. Walking down a hall of lockers and realizing you’re not wearing pants. Oversleeping on exam day and thereby being ineligible to pass the class.

Only once you’ve woken up and realized it was all a dream do you exhale and the cold chills fade. Still, you’ll never escape these nightmares. They keep coming back time after time.

Perhaps the only thing worse than being haunted by nightmares is being haunted by mistakes you can’t undo. And if you’ve been in the working world for long enough you’re bound to commit such a gaffe. Whether it’s a small mistake, such as spilling ketchup on your tie, or a significant error, like accepting an offer for a job you know you’ll hate, everyone has a few mistakes in their closet.

We asked some professionals to let us know what some of their biggest professional mistakes are. Some are minor, others are major, and several are in between. Regardless, at least you know that you’re not alone in your missteps.

“I was the executive director of an organization serving juvenile offenders and had started a program to match firefighters up with juvenile fire setters. I had invited community leaders to my office to discuss the program and had a short film clip about fire setting. I had brought in my own VCR and started it rolling, but instead of the film clip, a steaming scene from “Body Heat” came on, which was the film my husband and I had watched the night before. I was completely mortified. At the time I was only 25, the youngest ED in all of Denver and trying to be so professional. It was hard to regroup in that moment, pop in the other tape and continue. I did, and the firefighters found it hilarious, but I had a hard time finding the humour in the moment.” – Anne Belden, life coach for Sea Changes Life Coaching

“Just starting my career, I worked as an assistant account executive for a small PR agency. As low man on the totem pole, I often crafted the press releases for our client, a major pork products producer. The client had a toll-free phone number where people could call and get coupons and recipes. The client’s toll-free number started with “1-888” but the press release that I wrote and was reviewed by two senior account team members had a “1-800″ number listed. Only after major national distribution and calls from some of those newspapers did we find out about the wrong phone number. The number we had published wasn’t a toll-free number for coupons, it was a porn number. To this day, I personally call and verify all phone numbers on any press release I’m asked to review. Now, I also check all websites.” – Deanna H. Miller, marketing specialist for Goodwill Industries of Central North Carolina, Inc.

“The biggest mistake I have made in my professional career was ignoring my own business sense and believing the ‘hype.’ Prior to starting SOCO Games, I held a senior business development role with a software company in the start-up phase. When I took the role, I was told a number of things were in place that would give me a fighting chance to be successful. Very quickly I realized that most were fabricated by the owner and what was said and reality were a long way apart. Unfortunately, my desire to succeed and pride made me hang on to a sinking ship a lot longer than I should have. My advice to anyone entering into a new role is to be realistic about your chances of being successful. Whether you are the business owner or not, the rules are the same. Address the situation and be truthful and get out before you invest too much time and energy. There is nothing wrong with getting involved with a start-up with the chance to build something exciting — I would have it no other way — but make sure you are backing the right horse.” – Jeff Bogensberger, co-founder and CEO of SOCO Games

“I had just been promoted to the position of account manager for [a $75 million] account, which was our largest national account. Despite this great promotion, I did not receive the benefits that the person in this job before me got: I was not paid his salary, I was not given his bonus structure, I was not given a new company car as he was, etc. When I asked my boss about this, he made up some lame excuse about this and basically lied about why this would not happen. I know that he lied because one of the secretaries filled me in on what I should expect at this level in terms of compensation [and so on].

So, I sat in front of my boss and as I was explaining my disappointment that I was not being treated the same way that the man in the position before me was treated, I cried. I tried to stop myself, but the tears just kept coming. I knew he was uncomfortable and was not happy to see these tears, but I was just overwhelmed with anger and sadness and could not say the words to him about how upset I was. Today, I am 47 and would be able to say those words and not cry. But, I still remember sitting in his office crying and I regret it because it diminished my ability to sell my position with him.” – Dr. Karen E. Mishra, clinical professor at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business

“[I was] the copyeditor for a large software company in the 1980s that had produced a big product brochure going out to the entire customer base, perhaps 300,000 customers. I overlooked that the 800 number — a number I had seen approximately one million times and which was in huge numbers in the pull-out ordering sheet in the center of the brochure — was wrong. The director of operations immediately got on the phone to my boss with the simple words: ‘Fire that guy!’ But my boss, never one for diplomacy himself, calmly talked him out of it. That was 20 years ago, and it still haunts me.” – Tom Bentley of copywriting and editing company The Write Word


Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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